Your survival gear is as effective as your ability to use it. Here is how to use a ferrocerrium rod to make sparks for firemaking.
by Leon Pantenburg
Most of you reading this post have probably seen (I hope) a video showing fire being created with a ferrocerium rod. It looks easy – A quick strike, a shower of sparks, and a fire bursts into view.These custom ferro rods don’t work better, but they are more fun to carry and use. (Pantenburg photo)
But sometimes, using this tool is not as easy as it may appear. In fact, people have contacted me asking what was wrong with their commercial ferro rods and why they wouldn’t work. Sometimes, there are several things being done wrong.
Here are five things you need to know about making a fire with a ferrocerrium rod:
Get a quality product: Cheap versions are available at virtually any sporting goods store. But, in the case of ferro rods, you may get what you pay for. Some of the cheap Chinese models, from discount camping supply distributors are junk. They don’t work very well, and it take some effort to produce sparks. Check out the label: It might tell how how hot the sparks get. The hotter the sparks, the more efficient the ferro rod.
Remove the coating: Most ferro rods come with a paint or some sort of coating that prevents oxidation. Problem is, this coating needs to be gone before a spark can be created. A general rule of thumb is that you should see a shiny area on the rod where you will scrape. This ties in directly with the next suggestion.
Get a good scraper (or sometimes referred to as a striker, take your pick): When you make a spark, you are removing white-hot pieces of the ferro with the scraper. Virtually any sharp object might work for scraping the ferro rod. For consistency, though, get a hard steel scraper with sharp, 90-degree angles. This will allow you to most effectively scrape the rod.
While any sharp piece of metal, or even a sharp rock, will work it isn’t the best idea to use the sharpened edge of your knife blade. While it will work fine, there is real potential to damage the blade with prolonged use. Get a knife with 90-degree angles on the spine, and use that to save the edge.
Prepare effective tinder: All the sparks in the world won’t help if you can’t catch one and make it into a fire. To get the spark to a fire, you need some fine tinder or fire starter. One of the most effective tinders/firestarters is cotton balls infused with petroleum jelly. Charcloth will catch a spark. Other common items that work well include jute twine, sisal fibers, very fine organic fibers, the dry inner bark of some trees (juniper, cedar etc) and some leaves. Dryer lint usually works OK, but is erratic and I recommend against using it in survival kits. ( Here’s why.)
Use the correct technique: Angle the scraper at about a 45-degree angle. Place the end of the rod right next to the tinder. Place the scraper on top of the rod, and drag the rod back. If you whittle with the scraper, you may bump your tinder away from the sparks.
Follow these tips, and you should be successful starting a fire with your ferro rod. Practice your survival skills!
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